The Libertines Up the Bracket, 2002, Rough Trade
Death on the Stairs
Time for Heroes
Boys in the Band
Up the Bracket
Tell the King
The Boy Looked at Johnny
The Good Old Days
I Get Along
Londoners The Libertines had formed in 1997 with a garage rock sound, although they took inspiration from groups as diverse as the Sex Pistols and Chas ‘n’ Dave. Up the Bracket, their first full length album was produced by Mick Jones from The Clash, however the band were more famous for their excesses, and especially for frontman Pete Doherty’s crack and heroin use and relationship with Kate Moss than their music. Carl Barât and Pete Doherty who would go on to share joint vocal and guitar duties met through Pete’s sister whom Carl was sharing a flat with whilst at university. It wasn’t until the success of The Strokes that people began to see potential in The Libertines whose line up now included John Hassall on bass and Gary Powell on drums - they were signed to Rough Trade in December 2001. They played over 100 gigs in 2002 (Many of them impromptu “Guerrilla gigs”), both to get their name out there and to support Up the Bracket.
Vertigo has an anarchic start and they never seem to fully regain control of the song, the vocals just don’t mesh. Death on the Stairs, based on a nightmare Carl once had is much tighter and more coherent. Horrorshow is the strongest track so far, a very punky track about drug addiction. Time for Heroes is a classic, everything The Libertines came to be known for musically, great melody, strong drums, and lyrics about rioting. Boys in the Band, a pretty derogatory song about groupies is fun but a bit disjointed. Radio America is so gentle as to be ponderous, it feels a bit out of place here. Catchy title track Up the Bracket (the phrase means a punch to the throat) is the story of someone who is regularly accosted by gang members, the frantic beat is the perfect accompaniment to the lyrics. Tell the King feels poignant in the light of what eventually happened to the band as Pete and Carl share verses where they tell each other what’s wrong with their relationship. The changes in vocal style work brilliantly. The Boy Looked at Johnny is a return to a shouty punk vibe. Begging is great, just angry guitar and drum heavy rock. The Good Old Days is another standout track. Brilliantly crafted, the vocal is quite restrained and the melody is awesome. I Get Along closes the album at a frantic pace.
It’s patchy in places but it still feels like a great album, as fresh as if the band had just walked into the studio and started playing without planning anything out beforehand. There are moments of brilliance and moments where it all descends into shambles but I feel that this, more than their more polished second album captures what it was like to see them live, when they were genuinely the best thing on the rock scene in London. Much like The Streets, this album seems to capture a moment in time for me. The influence of The Clash is understandably strong but there is also something of The Kinks and The Jam. Drummer Gary Powell should get all the plaudits for holding the whole thing together, which he does brilliantly.
The band had already begun to implode during the recording of this album. Heavy drug use, arguments, missed concerts and Doherty robbing Barât’s home (and his subsequent prison sentence) all contributed to their downfall. Despite all this they managed to record their successful second album but they then disbanded, all going on to other projects before eventually reuniting for a few gigs in 2010 and releasing a third album in 2015. Although they only burned brightly for a short time they had a big influence, widely considered to be the most quintessentially “Rock and Roll” of the all the British bands of the 2000s. They influenced a lot of bands who went on to be far more commercially successful including; Arctic Monkeys, Razorlight and The Kooks.